a resurrection of relics

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  • A RESURRECTION OF RELICSx I

    RESURRECTION OF RELICS is the title of a A ( Modern Churchmans defence in a recent charge of heresy urged against the Rev. H. D. A. Major, principal of a Church of England Theological College at Oxford, and Editor of The Modern Church- man. Presented by a brother clergyman to his bishop on a charge of heresy on account of a statement publicly made ( that the form which the doctrine of the resur- rection assumes in his mind is the survival of death by a personality which has shed its physical integument for ever, Mr. Major has brought out a pamphlet in which he reiterates this statement and endeavours to defend his position.

    He has been brought to hold what he does, he tells us, not merely because of the intrinsic improbability of the doctrine from which he dissents, nor because of the scientific difficulties to which it was open. He has been led to reject the doctrine ( because it has become clear that Jesus Christ did not teach it. With the Apostles it is otherwise, and (( it may well be that the teaching of St. Paul is different. But, if so, so much the worse for St. Paul. Like the Salvation Army lass when confronted with St. Pauls teaching on womens speaking in church, he has his answer ready. Ah ! but that, you see, is just where I dont agree with Paul. There is only a single passage of Our Lords teaching to appeal to, so he tells us, for the resurrection teaching of the Fourth Gospel is not easy to interpret and may therefore, apparently, be left unexamined. The one passage which is decisive, in Mr. Majors view, is the answer of Our Lord to the Sadducees, I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of thedeadbutof theliving(Matt.xxii.32). Here, we are told, Christ decisively rejects the materialistic view

    * Basil Blackwell (Oxford) 2s. BLACKFRIARS, Vol. 11, No. 24.

  • Blackf riars of the Resurrection taught in Daniel and shows Himself in complete accordance with Mr. Major. The evidence is scanty, but to Mr. Majors mind it is adequate.

    But the question occurs to us : Is this really all that our Lord taught about the Resurrection ? It may be all that is recorded of His teaching before His own resurrection, but is it not also recorded that Our Lord, when He appeared after His resurrection, said to His disciples, See my hands and feet, that it is I myself: handle and see ; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me to have (Luke xxiv. 39). Is that quite consistent with the mere survival of death by a per- sonality which has shed its physical integuments for ever ? Or, perhaps, is St. Lukes Gospel entirely un- historical so that its assertions have no value ?

    The truth is that Mr. Major always fails to realize the vital connection between the doctrine of the Resur- rection of the body, which he rejects, and that of the Resurrection of Our Lord, which we suppose, as a clergyman of the Church of England, he still in some sense retains. His heresy is no new one. It is the oldest one of all. In the very first Epistle St. Paul wrote, possibly within twenty-five years of the death of Our Lord, it is already rampant, and its destructive force is fully recognized. I quote the Authorized Version as being the one with which Mr. Major will be most familiar. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians (xv. IZ), asks the question, How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead ? If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain. . . . Ye are yet in your sins.

    What St. Paul was appealing to was something which, as he tells us, happened on the third day. What does Mr. Major think did happen on that third day? Was it indeed nothing more than the first manifestation of the continued life of a personality

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  • A Resurrection of Relics which had shed its physical integuments for ever ? Did that physical integument rot in the grave ? Or if not, what became of that Sacred Body ? It was not so that the first disciples interpreted their message. They went forth preaching Jesus and the Resurrec- tion, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption. It was as witnesses of the Resurrection that the Apostles commenced their task of converting the world, and ever since it has formed so central a part of the Christian message that, as Mr. Major himself confesses, if there be a doctrine which can adequately meet those three great tests of Catholicity which St. Vincent of Lerins insists upon in the Commonitorium, antiquity, universality and con- sent, it is this doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh. In all ages the Catholic Church has insisted upon it, just because she has seen clearly that it is bound up with the Resurrection of Our Lord, and is therefore a vital part of Christianity ; but now we are told by Mr. Major that all through the ages she has been wrong, that she has not only gone beyond Scripture, but has gone astray from Scripture, because she has tried to give an answer where Scripture gives none.

    Characteristically enough it does not seem to have occurred to Mr. Major, before he thus finally con- demned the Catholic Church for her obscurantism, in contrast with himself, the enlightened Jews and the Unitarians, to examine with any care what the teaching of that Church really is. He does not seem so much as to have heard that there be any theologians. Cer- tainly, except St. Thomas, whom he misunderstands, and the Catechism of Trent, which he mistakenly quotes as a formal decree of the Council, his researches seem to have been limited to a brief article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, orthodox enough no doubt, but hardly an authoritative statement of a difficult theo- logical doctrine. He nowhere cites any authoritative

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  • Bluckf riars de$de utterance of the Church. Was it not worth his while to enquire what Suarez had to say, or any other of the great theologians of the various schools ? Cardinal Billots De novissimis might have given him some assistance in more modern times. Even the Penny Catechism would have taught him some things which he shows no sign of knowing. The very phrase which he quotes from St. Thomas, that the soul is the form of the body, would have helped him had he only understood it. What the Church has always insisted upon, what alone is of faith on the subject, is the preservation of essential identity between the body that is laid to rest and the body that is raised. So fundamental has that been felt to be that her teachers have not been deterred by any difficulty which seemed to stand in the way. For if that be given up, as Mr. Major gives it up, the whole of Christianity falls with it. The Resurrection of Christ must be given up. The doctrine of the Eucharist has no solid basis. The Divinity of our Lord lacks its chief proof. The whole Catholic faith, as handed down from the Apostles, is built upon a blunder if not upon a fraud. The consequences are more momentous than Mr. Major seems to have realized. Progressive Jews and Unitarians can give up the doctrine easily enough. For them there is nothing at stake. But for Christians to follow their example is nothing less than to make shipwreck of the faith.

    But while she has been thus inflexible in insisting on essential identity, the Church has never laid down any doctrine as of faith as to how that identity is preserved. T o most of her teachers in the past it has seemed to involve a certain identity of material, and they have not shrunk from so teaching, in spite of the obvious difficulties of such a theory. But she has never condemned any theory which has provided for the preservation of essential identity, and has not

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  • A Resurrection of Relics over-spiritualized the doctrine, as Mr. Major has done, to the extent of denying that one essential point. Even Mr. Major himself is perhaps not quite such a heretic as he imagines, for his last words are much more orthodox when he states that he believes in the full survival of all that constitutes whatever is essential to a human personality, in short all that is meant by the term personal identity. His mistake has been that he has not understood that the Church is not bound by the opinions of any individual teachers, however eminent, although such opinions ought always in the case of great names to be given most respectful con- sideration, and in his revolt from what has undoubtedly been the predominant opinion in the past, he has sacrificed not only agreement with the Fathers, but also the very doctrine they were trying to explain. As our American friends would put it, he has thrown out the baby with the bath water.

    After all what do we know, in the present state of human knowledge, of what constitutes essential iden- tity ? St. Paul gives us a broad enough doctrine when he suggests as a simile the identity of the seed with the plant into which it develops. We know nothing and can know nothing of the nature of that life of eternity beyond the limitations of space and of time, or of the needs of the soul in that other world. We can form no accurate idea, because we have no experi- ence, of the body in which the soul will express itself in those surroundings. We have little to guide us except a few deductions from the observed conditions of our Lords body after His Resurrection, and the teaching of St. Paul in the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. Under those circumstances it is wise for us not to dogmatize beyond what is necessary, but simply to make our act of faith in what has been revealed, confessing that our bodies will be raised, as was Our Lords, to live eternally, and that, however

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  • Blackf riars changed that spiritual body may be from the earthly one we have known, its es